Monday, July 23, 2012

LITERALLY lost in translation.

The other day Brett and I were on one of our weekly road trips, and after a few hours stuck in traffic, we started getting a little short with one another. Quickly flicking my gaze up to the never-ending stream of cars in front of us, I realized that we were sort of stuck where we were for awhile. I had to make the best out of the situation. I had to relax him and woo him and make him feel loved and secure by the dashboard light. (See what I kind of did there?)

So I sang to him in Spanish.

About 2 choruses into the song, I was really getting into it. I threw my shoulders in, I shimmied in my seat, and when I looked over at Brett, expecting to see complete adoration, I was met by complete confusion.

"Why," he asked me incredulously, "are you singing so passionately about a pen?"


I've never been very good with languages. I'm good with people, and for some reason I feel like that makes up for it. When Brett and I were planning our big, month long trip to France, he enrolled in French classes at Stanford, for God sake. When he asked me if I wanted to join, I confidently told him that I was pretty sure I had a knack for the French language, and wouldn't want any formal education to mess up that innate talent. So, every Wednesday Brett went off for 3 hours of lecture, and I went to the local Mexican restaurant and drank margaritas.

As you do.

Of course, once we were in France, I was completely enthralled with the culture, in love with the people, and desperate to make friends every where I went. But the only phrase I knew was the phrase you normally use to ask for the check. And I say "normally," because I'm pretty sure I wasn't even asking for the check. God knows what I was asking for. But I did it with such flourish and with such passion, the check came every night.

Perhaps in a calculated effort to make us leave.

When we went to Italy, it was the same sort of deal. Brett took Italian, I waved my hands around a lot and ended up making friends with a Canadian couple in the laundromat because they were the only ones who understood me. I tried though. I smiled. I parroted back phrases I heard Brett use smoothly and with a quiet confidence I could not actually emulate. When I wandered off alone one afternoon and could not even order gelato by myself because the waiter had NO IDEA WHATSOEVER I was asking for, I slunk back to Brett with tears in my eyes.

"Maybe you were right." I sniffed. "I mean, maybe. But, I was so close. I almost ordered...something."

To his credit, (and maybe because we were on our honeymoon,) he didn't say a word, ordered me a glass of limoncello from a local cafe, and probably became best friends with the waiter because I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON.

And I drank the limoncello. And thought that maybe it was time I learned another language.

People are always surprised to hear I took 4 years of Spanish in high school. And when I say people are surprised, I mean no one actually cares that I took 4 years of Spanish in high school, but I like to pretend they do. But, they DO START caring when I finish my story and tell them that I actually only took 2 years of Spanish in high school. Spanish 1...and Spanish 2.

3 times.

I blame my Spanish 1 teacher, the cleverly named "Señora." Señora was like me- vivacious, a party girl, dressed loudly and had crazy curls that took over her whole face. And another thing we had in common? We spoke about the same level of Spanish.

She was beloved, so I'm not trying to drag her name through the barro, (mud. Thank you babel fish.) But she was sort of clueless. I mean, yes...I learned all the words to "La Cucaracha." I designed a "dia de los muertos" mask that the class all made as well and paraded around the halls of our small high school during lesson time. I ate salsa. I drew pictures in class, and she would swoop in, pick them up, and ask if she could keep them for herself. Never mind I was drawing those pictures during her lecture on verb conjugation. Never mind that she did half the lecture in stick figures. She was a hoot, people loved her, and I got an "A" in Spanish.

And then she retired, dammit.

Enter "Señor."

Señor was a compact, attractive, and charming man. HE WAS ALSO ACTUALLY SPANISH. After my first day in Spanish 2 he asked me to stay after class. I naively thought he just wanted to congratulate me on my awesome social skills and my ability to sing the entirety of "La Cucaracha." Instead, he beamed at me and kindly asked me "How the fuck did I make it to Spanish 2?" Except he didn't say fuck.

But, his Spanish temper did.

Needless to say I was kept after class EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. as he tirelessly worked with me. For 3 years. I'm surprised no one thought we were having an affair, pregnant, and married by the end of that time. He was the longest relationship I had had to that date, and the most mature and complicated by far. I'll never forget my last session- about a week to graduation. We were sitting in his hot classroom, and I was trying to adjust my jean skirt as I recited in broken Spanish what I had done that day.

"I ate of the fruit. I ran. I wore of the short pants and I gymnasium. I shop of cloth at night-time with my Mother's Mother..."

He looked at me, very sweetly, and pushed a piece of paper towards me as I continued my stream of banality.

"What this of?" I asked in Spanish. Ish.

"Please stop speaking Spanish. Please, please speak English." He begged. "It's a note. Saying you pass. You pass Spanish 2, and can graduate. Congratulations, good luck, and you can leave now."

So, we ended on really loving terms.

In all seriousness, this man had put up with more than...well, most have. Besides Brett. So, maybe they should meet. They can speak Spanish together, because I'm sure Brett knows it.

Anyway, I guess you can say that this brief hiccup caused me a little more damage than I thought. Señor was not to blame at all. In fact, I want to find him and shake his hand and reassure him that I am not a total and complete idiot. But, it altered the way I approached language. It became something I was afraid of. I shied away from it- and only when I found my "voice,"...much later in life...was I willing to look at it again.

After my passionate Spanish song about pens, Brett looked over at me and asked if I wanted to learn a language with him. "It can be anything you want. I know how you are about that sort of thing- so I want you to be comfortable. But, I want to really learn and master a language with you. We could do it together. Any language you want."

I leaned back, turned up the J-Lo that had just come on the radio and smiled at him. "How is your Spanish?" I asked.

"Not great." He answered.

"Bueno. I'm in."

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